Up to 80% of the population will experience an episode of low back pain at some point in their lives. This is a huge number and remember that we are only talking about the lower back. Some 60% of the population are likely to experience neck pain and 40% upper back pain. This means that every person is likely to experience pain in one of these places at some point in their lives, and many people experience pain in more than one of these locations. In fact, several studies have shown that you are statistically much more likely to experience pain in your neck or back if you have previously experienced pain in any of these locations before. Unfortunately, it seems that once you have 'joined the club', membership is for life whether you want to remain a member or not.
Thankfully, there are several things you can do if your back or neck begins to hurt:
1. Don't panic!
Be reassured that the vast majority of neck or back pain is not due to anything serious or harmful, even if the pain level (intesity) gets very high. In fact, the majority of back and neck pain episodes are caused by 'simple' problems such as joints and muscles stiffening up and becoming very sensitive. Research has shown that simple pain killers such as paracetamol or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g. ibuprofen) will help to reduce pain levels during an episode of neck or back pain. Obviously, always read the label and speak to your pharmacist if necessary.
2. Stay active
Unlike 'old', outdated advice to rest your back and neck for prolonged periods by staying in bed or wearing a collar, research has consistently shown that people who continue with their normal daily activities, including their work, recover faster. Keeping your back and neck moving stops the working parts from seizing up. It may hurt a bit at first, but it does not do any damage - hurt is not the same as harm. It's worth working through any initial discomfort because you'll get back to normal that much quicker. Being fit and active will also help you to prevent more back problems in the future.
3. Get fast pain relief (from a professional)
Whilst staying active will help you manage your pain and will speed up your recovery, the treatment that we offer at The Birmingham Back Pain Clinic will greatly reduce the intensity and duration of your pain. This is particularly useful if the pain level (intensity) gets so high that staying active or being at work is becoming very difficult. You can be assured that you will receive the safest and most effective treatment available to reduce your pain level as quickly as possible.
Sciatica is different from 'simple' back pain because it is caused primarily by a nerve becoming sensitive. This is why the pain commonly spreads into the leg and can be accompanied by unusual sensations such as 'tingling' or numbness. The most common reason for this to occur is an injury of a disc in your lower back, which sits close to the affected nerve. This can irritate the nerve, making it inflamed and even swollen. Ironically, the disc often heals fairly well after it is injured, but the nerve can remain sensitive for many months after this. Therefore, successful treatment is aimed at making the nerve 'calm down' and become less sensitive. Sometimes, the disc injury results in a genuine 'trapped nerve' (nerve compression), which can cause a loss of strength in the leg and may require referral for surgery. Thankfully, these are relatively rare cases but if you are unsure, why not let us have a look. Also, if you are experiencing problems with passing water (urinating) or with your bowel habits, make sure you see somebody (a doctor or other qualified professional) right away.
Whiplash is commonly associated with motor vehicle collisions. In fact, the name 'whiplash' isn't really a diagnosis, but a description of the movements of the neck and back during a motor vehicle collision. During a rear-end collision, the vertebrae in the neck and the joints between them move in a way that they are not designed to. As a result, the joints between the vertebrae can become strained and very painful. The intricate muscle and nerve tissue around the neck can also become very sensitive after being stretched so suddenly. In addition, the back can become painful too. This rapid and simultaneous onset of pain from several different parts of the neck and back can lead to a high level of sensitivity that can last for several weeks or even months. Early treatment is recommended to prevent the symptoms from lasting for a long period and becoming stubborn. In general, the earlier pain is relieved, the better the outcome.
Research has shown that 'non-specific' limb pains that occur without obvious injury or trauma (high forces or a sudden movement) rarely occur without some involvement of the spine. This means that upper limb pain (shoulder, elbow or wrist pain) is usually associated with neck problems, and lower limb pain (hip, groin, knee and ankle pain) is usually associated with lower back problems. This is often the explanation behind often stubborn conditions such as 'tennis' or 'golfers' elbow and pain around the kneecaps. Exceptions from this are 'specific' problems such as bursitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, or osteoarthritis, which can be readily diagnosed.
Any sportsperson, amateur or professional, will know that pain is an unfortunate inevitability at some point during a sporting career. Whether from running, track and field athletics, rugby, football, or cricket, your problem needs a fast diagnosis and appropriate treatment as soon as possible. That way you can get back to your chosen sport with minimal disruption and loss of fitness. Many of our sporting patients also find that by 'nipping problems in the bud', their performance levels are maintained at a higher level.